Let’s talk today about one of my favorite things ever, after running: coffee!
I have coffee every single morning: hot, freshly brewed, black, with a touch of cinnamon. One cup before my run, and (at least) one with my post-run breakfast. Breakfast without coffee is just sad, in my opinion. Thankfully, coffee is good for you, both for your overall health and for your athletic performance! Here are some of the benefits of coffee for runners, in case you need another reason to enjoy a cup of joe before your next run!
Coffee is Good for Your Overall Health
The 2015 Scientific Report from the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee affirms the health benefits of coffee as part of a nutritious and balanced diet. The report cites “strong evidence” that the moderate consumption of coffee (up to five cups per day!) is associated with a reduced risk of type-2 diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, and cardiovascular diseases.
However, some of these benefits can be lessened if you add a lot of sugar or cream to your coffee. If you don’t like your coffee black, try it with a pinch of cinnamon or cocoa powder. If you need to add cream or sugar, use small amounts and avoid using fake sugars or highly processed dairy products.
Coffee Boosts Your Brain Power
I’ve talked in the past about how running increases your neural pathways and improves your cognitive function. Studies have found that regular consumption of coffee reduces your risk for dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. The Institute for Scientific Information on Coffee has found that the caffeine and polyphenol (an antioxidant) in coffee slow or prevent the effects of aging, including cognitive decline. Together, caffeine and polyphenol reduce inflammation and prevent the build-up of plaque in the brain; many scientists and doctors believe inflammation and build-up are two of the causes of dementia and memory-loss.
Coffee Helps with Digestive Function
Without sounding crass, coffee helps things get moving in digestive systems in the morning. If you’re going out on a long run or have a big race, one of the last things you want is to have to go to the bathroom while you are running. A cup of coffee an hour or more before your run or race can wake up your digestive system and help you…well, help you go before you start running.
Coffee Boosts Athletic Performance
The most notable of the benefits of coffee for runners is the positive impact coffee can have on athletic performance. The caffeine in coffee increases alertness, energy, and focus. A study from the Society for Experimental Biology shows that caffeine can boost your power output by up to 6%! (And in case you’re worried: the World Anti-Doping Agency removed caffeine from the banned substance list in 2004. However, if you’re a collegiate athlete, keep in mind that the NCAA will suspend you if your tests show higher than 15 micrograms/milliliter.)
Coffee wakes up your brain so you can focus your mental energy on racing during those early hours that most half and full marathons start; it also gives you a stronger sense of ease in your running. Since the concentrations of caffeine can stay high in your blood for several hours, having coffee before a race can help you stay strong later through those last difficult miles of a race.
While you can take caffeine in the form of caffeinated sports gels or other mid-run fuels, some people experience stomach upset from taking coffee during running. Relying on your pre-race coffee for caffeine will provide you enough of a boost for several hours while giving it time before the event to settle in your stomach. Additionally, you never want to do anything new on race day, so if you’re used to drinking coffee before a run, you don’t want to switch over to other caffeinated products and risk problems later on in the race.
Question of the Day:
Do you drink coffee before your runs or races?